WHEN Daniel Sturridge passed his debut Liverpool goal in to Mansfield’s net, he did his best to look nonchalant.
Perhaps aware that putting one past a non-league side wasn’t the kind of thing Real Proper Strikers Who Play Through the Middle like what he is would go wild about, his celebration was muted.
A nod of satisfaction, a few meaningful glances around the pitch and Daniel was done.
Well, Jonjo Shelvey wasn’t having that. He’d played a lovely pass to make the goal, and Jonjo believes in celebrating. Jonjo wanted his new friend to enjoy the moment. So Daniel, sheepishly, obliged with his by-now famous dance.
For what it’s worth, it’s fine to dance. Dancing’s fun, and football should be fun. Dance all you want, Dan. You’re a better mover than anyone who gets sniffy about it will ever be.
But the moment summed up everything we’ve come to know about Shelvey. Shelvey plays with a smile and a song in his heart. Unfortunately the song is by LMFAO, but there you have it.
Jonjo says he prefers to play as a number 10 as there’s less defensive work to do. Jonjo likes getting the ball and doing things with it. Jonjo likes to celebrate.
All of these things are fine, even admirable. But they add up to fragments of a player, not a cohesive whole.
People speak of Shelvey as a deputy for Steven Gerrard, yet that’s been a largely redundant role this season given the captain’s run of fitness. So Shelvey must make a case for inclusion on his own merits.
Brendan Rodgers has tried inordinately hard to make this happen. Shelvey has played in a midfield three, as a wide forward and, in the absence of Luis Suarez, a striker.
While he has shown promise in all three positions, it is hard to escape the feeling that Liverpool have often been a less effective side with Shelvey than without.
Perhaps this is unfair. In the Europa League in particular the former Charlton man has stood out in terms of quality and leadership, and there is always a sense he might make something happen.
This latter attribute is what so endears him to many fans. He often does pretty much what the man on the Kop believes footballers should devote all their time to (90% shooting, 10% ‘putting him under’).
Shelvey is a gift to anyone who ever chanted ‘attack, attack, attack’ as a Benitez side filed its nails on the way to a sixth 2-0 win on the bounce, a Pinocchio figure willed into being by their urge for a real boy who’ll just stop faffing about and have a go.
That his name is sung more than anyone other than, arguably, Gerrard and Suarez (Jose Enrique might have a case here), is ludicrous and yet wholly explicable. Shelvey has no air of diffidence. He is the anti-Downing. His self-belief radiates.
And he has ability. Managers as different in approach as Benitez, Rodgers and Hodgson (in twinkly-eyed England manager guise) agree. This lad can play.
Can he, though, play in Liverpool’s midfield? Compelling evidence that he can is thin on the ground. If the success of Gerrard as a deep-lying midfielder is to continue it will rely on the screening presence of two pragmatic, energetic midfielders well equipped to press the opposition. The club has three of those, and none of them was born in Romford.
The wide option has been tried, but a lack of pace and, at times, guile, must mitigate against that as any kind of long-term solution. With the arrival of Sturridge, impending return of Fabio Borini and the suggestion Raheem Sterling may begin to add more end product to his game, chances there will surely be limited.
The opportunity to nail down a permanent place may elude Shelvey for the near future. While Gerrard is around it’s hard to see how he can be accommodated regularly.
This leaves two obvious possibilities. Either Shelvey considers a move to a club with a hero-shaped hole in their squad and becomes a latter-day Matt Le Tissier, or he bides his time, takes the games he can get in a range of positions and learns.
The England cap, the songs, the big games he’s already played in shouldn’t blind Shelvey to the fact he remains a very young player.
Patience, from player, manager and – perhaps most importantly – his adoring public – might well be a virtue worth pursuing.
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